To shop or not to shop: that’s the question

To shop or not to shop: that’s the question

The earliest projections have the country moving toward a post-COVID state in March, which means that the first couple of months of 2021 will only be more of the same for us all, putting further strain on the high street. By the time the majority of the nation is vaccinated, we’ll have been living in a COVID world for more than a year, and, unfortunately, a return to “normal” may be forgotten.

However, while the future for the British high street looks bleak as the pandemic continues to loom large over traditional bricks-and-mortar retail, online and omnichannel retailers are booming, adopting new retail technologies faster than ever before.

We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how retail and technology unfolds throughout 2021 and this is what we’ve decided we want to see more of – after all, we all love a bit of online shopping, right?

Service straight to your front door

Nearly half (45%) of UK adults have been receiving more parcel deliveries since the start of the Covid-19 lockdown. The study from Royal Mail found that over two-thirds of adults will continue their online shopping habits, with their levels of spend (66%) and the frequency (68%) remaining a central focus. Although a date of normality is still not on the cards, 77% said they will increase shopping online even after restrictions have finally lifted, avoiding the need to queue and adhere to social distancing measures. 

Collectively these findings add to the mounting evidence that the pandemic has changed the mindset of consumers, allowing consumers to browse and order more conveniently at their fingertips. Consumer safety is a battling concern and any issues consumers encounter now will have an effect on their loyalty in the future. 

Stores finding a new focus

With stores temporarily closed, and online demand skyrocketing, footfall has taken a back seat. Hello, fulfillment hubs! There’s remarkable synergy in using these spaces for e-commerce, in some cases transforming them into mini-distribution centers, particularly when paired with last-mile delivery services. I know I’m guilty of next day delivery, but according to Tech HQ, 88% of shoppers are willing to pay for same-day or faster delivery options! But what are the environmental impacts of these decisions? 

When we can start to return to the shops, retailers ought to ask themselves the question: How will they use technology to deliver a better customer experience? Customer experience should be at the forefront of all decisions, strengthening engagement and loyalty along the way.

If there are any small “silver lining” lessons to add to the customer experience playbook gleaned from the pandemic, we mustn’t forget one important thing: that the customer experience must be, above everything else, human-centric. Did you know Samsung has created  a“digital playground and cultural destination?” It’s not a retail store at all: it is a physical manifestation of the brand and the brand’s story, allowing users to experience the brand without transactions. If consumers don’t want to return to the high street, will this swing their opinions?

Online gets personal

With Zoom calls and virtual quizzes mainstream (and too many to count!), retailers are jumping on board this craze to offer value added services. 

Besides the convenience factor, virtual consultations make it possible to share product videos, review technical specs, walk consumers through features and functions in a demo, and boost trust via face-to-face interaction – an opportunity to explore throughout 2021 as lockdown life continues. Already prevalent in the automotive industry, retailers are beginning to realise that this same sales model can work wonders for many other products and services. 

And finally, who would have thought that virtual queues would exist? Bicester Village, a global shopping destination, jumped on board this craze before lockdown 3.0. Effortlessly, consumers can digitally reserve their place in the queue at selected boutiques by scanning a QR code at the boutique entrance and the time available to browse a socially distanced layout. Will we see this method being rolled out to the masses? Only time will tell.

Regardless of what lockdown tier we are all in, from the offset, we know that 2021 still remains to be as challenging as the year before. But with a positive mindset, 2021 will be a year to remember and not forget – one to reflect on what worked and how lessons can be learned and improved upon. 

Do you operate in the retail tech industry? Let us know your thoughts, and we’ll let you know how a PR and social media campaign can get you heard above the background noise. 

Catherine Soor

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